Robots in Anime- They are for more than just fighting and sex
Robots have been a common sight in anime since its beginnings, with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy (1952) being the most famous robot from these early years of modern anime and manga. Over the years robots have been used in a variety of ways from military weapons (Tachikomas), maids (Mahoro), idol singer (Key the metal idol), and sex (Bubblegum Crisis). While we are still a long way away from some of these robots, there are others that we are getting dangerously close to.
I’m not claiming to be an expert here, but it looks like we are still a far away from having any sort of military robots like the Tachikomas. Today’s military drones are remotely operated vehicles that might have a few autopilot assist functions, but the weapons are controlled by human hands, all be it remotely.
While I would love a robotic maid as much as the next guy……. It’s because I’m lazy and don’t like to cook, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. The number of tasks involved in being a maid make it very difficult to build, let alone program, a robot capable of handling all of them. However, there are a few robots that could lighten the load a little bit. I’m talking about the robotic vacuums, mops, and lawnmowers. It’s not perfect, but it is something.
I like the first one better.
The closest we have to a robotic idol singer at this point is Hatsune Miku, which is something.
Yeah, not going anywhere near this one, but I will give you an article to read.
Socially Assistive Robots
Now this is the one I wanted to talk to you guys about, because while socially assistive robots are severely underrepresented in anime, they are starting to become a thing in the real world. I was first clued into this by my dad, of all people, who gave me an article from the June issue of JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association). The article is an interview with Dr. Maja Mataric, who is working on creating robots that could assist in rehabilitation, convalescence, and behavioral changes. What makes this so interesting is that these robots would not assist in a physical manner but a mental one. Dr. Mataric actually founded the entire field of socially assistive robots 15 years ago. Her goal is to create robots that provide the motivation and coaching a patient might require to actually finish their rehabilitation and follow the doctor’s orders after they leave the hospital. The reason for using robots over interactive screens was that her research found that our brains will react differently to a physical presence like a robot over a screen. Thus, by using robots she can improve a patient’s recovery, and influence the patient’s social behavior.
If you are still a little confused over what the robots will be doing, let me explain. Take, for instance, a patient recovering from a long-term comma- one of the many problems they will face is learning to walk again. Holon from the anime Real Drive is a medical assistance robot that helps to care for an 80-year-old man after he awakens from a coma and has to learn to walk again.
A socially assistive robot could provide encouragement to help the patient continue their therapy while at home. Basically, the robot is doing the same job as a medical assistant, but it could be on site 24/7 and there would be no risk of burnout. There is, of course, the issue of these robots putting people out of work, but let’s take a closer look at the numbers. As of 2012 one in five individuals in the United States reported some sort of disability, and while I admit that some of those on the list (like those with hearing problems would not necessarily benefit from some sort of assistant), that is nearly 20% of the population of the United States.
That means that there are 64.62 million people who could potentially be in need of a medical assistant, and in the worst-case scenario of 1 assistant to 1 patient, that means 40% of the population is handicapped in some way and/or working with a handicapped individual. This has the potential to put a strain on the economy. Also realize that the autism rate is now 1 in 45-68 births, so the number of individuals requiring assistance isn’t going to be decreasing anytime soon. In this way, socially assistive robots could greatly reduce the strain on the medical system and economy.
There are several researchers currently using robots as a way to help children with autism improve their ability to interact socially. Children with autism often struggle with reading body language, facial expressions and emotions. Robots can be of great assistance when helping autistic children learn social interactions, because the robot’s expressions and responses can be limited. In this way, the autistic child can be given a little at a time and not overloaded. The second advantage is that it creates a doorway to social interactions with others. Robots are cool, and kids like robots, so other children would want to see the robot too. An interactive robot would be able to interact with both children, acting as an intermediary between the autistic child and other children.
The main hurdle that these robotic creations face is in the programing. Humor is especially hard to program, but the robots are using facial recognition to help determine if the words and phrases are having a positive or negative impact. Most of us probably remember how Microsoft’s Tay bot turned out.
I haven’t seen Real Drive yet, so I can’t give a more detailed discussion about Holon, but I just wanted to clue you guys in on just how far robots have come recently. I also never thought of using robots for assisting patients in a nonphysical manner and found it fascinating.
Real Life Holon
It’s not anywhere close to the anime version, but we are getting closer every day. While I still think it’s a long time until we see human-like robots, I think there is a good chance I will see them in my lifetime. Thanks for reading and please leave any questions or comments below.